It could easily go down as the shortest pre-World Cup team meeting ever. Just before their departure for London for the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, coach Tushar Arothe shepherded the Indian team to a room and asked a loaded question: “Why are we taking this flight?” As quickly as an echo, a couple of women replied, “To win the World Cup.” Like at an army drill, several others repeated the answer jauntily, others nodded vigorously. “I heard that, I saw the group and I said the meeting was over. The team had belief and a clear target. There wasn’t much to say,” says the 50-year-old Arothe, a veteran of over 100 first-class games and Baroda’s one-time Ranji Trophy run machine.
It’s been almost a month since that meeting, the women in blue are now just a stride short of completing the walk that would justify their pre-tournament talk. Arothe has to be a hopeless pessimist to doubt these women, though jumping the gun isn’t one of his traits. The prospect of facing England on Sunday at a jam-packed Lord’s — where the smoothly synchronised claps of the haughty MCC members in their loud red and gold silk blazers are expected to be easily drowned by the vociferous Tri-coloured NRIs, despite their minority — hasn’t made Mithali Raj and her merry women jittery.
While on their way to their London hotel, a day after Harmanpreet danced down the track at Derby and landed straight into countless hearts and as many Twitter timelines across the world, the team bus had dragged along St John’s Wood Road that homes Lord’s. “It was a crazy scene. They all started cheering as we passed Lord’s. The final was two days away but it seems they couldn’t wait to be out there on the ground. A majority of them had never gone inside till that day. These are what dreams are made of,” Arothe told The Sunday Express, the time-lag on the WhatsApp call from London failing to derail his galloping train of thoughts.
The coach isn’t a man of few words — that pre-Cup one-question meeting was an exception. In the months leading to the biggest assignment of his coaching career, Arothe also doubled up as a motivational speaker, a mind reader and occasionally an agony uncle. He would even go searching for books that he thought would relax his wards and look for speeches of orators that could inspire them. Not many cricket curriculums include Martin Luther King and Swami Vivekanand but Arothe did it differently. However, the mandatory masterclass of Sachin, Sehwag, Dhoni, VVS, Dravid duly dominated the girls’ time table. “These are all small, small things that are very effective. That is what a coach should understand. This can’t be an overnight transformation. I would make the girls listen to speeches of Martin Luther King and Swami Vivekanand. I would have one-on-one discussions and talk to small groups,” he says.
Arothe also passes on books to this small group of readers in the Indian dressing room. Mithali as the world knows is reading Playing with Fire, a book on Nasser Hussain. After TV cameras caught her reading it, the former England skipper tweeted, ‘Not much in that book about how to win a World Cup semi I’m afraid’.
Other books being swapped among the girls are the ones written by David Gower and Ian Bothan, and one interesting non-cricketing biography. “I picked up this book on Madonna, it’s about her music and life. That’s also being read with interest. There is one with inspiring short stories, even that has been exchanged a lot.”
These books, the coach says, are to relax. The more mainstream lessons they learn by watching great innings by legends of the game. Wise enough not to make the women ape cricket’s big boys’ technique or style, Arothe’s approach is quite pragmatic. For starters he methodically broke down an ODI game for the women. “We used to talk about batting in the first 10 overs, power plays and last four to five overs. I would show them how the greats approached these phases. For bowlers it was about how to bowl and when, plus the kind of fields to set,” he says.
To stress the point while explaining his method, Arothe drops in an analogy. “Say if you need 120 runs in 15 overs, you should know how to bat during that situation,” he says. So whose video did he show them to make them understand this situation? Arothe lets out a chuckle. “M S Dhoni during the World Cup final against Lanka. Aur kaun (Who else)? That’s a copy-book of approaching and meeting a target,” he says.
Arothe would be hoping for a Dhoni-like knock on Sunday, an eventuality that would make this a journey that has been very similar to the one that ended on April 2, 2011, at Wankhede. So far, the two can be compared — as was the case with Dhoni and Co., Mithali’s women too have shared the burden. “We have had this motto, ‘Individuals win matches, a team effort wins World Cup’,” he says. Facts and figures support the philosophy. Six different ‘Player of the match’ winners from eight games, Mithali and Deepti Sharma in line to be highest run-getter and wicket-taker respectively, four centurions, two five-wicket hauls and finally Harmanpreet’s 171, making her the poster girl of women’s game.
After profusely praising his team, Arothe reveals a dream of his own. “In 1983, we all kept awake late in the night to see Kapil Dev lift the Cup from the Lord’s balcony. I have been to Lord’s but never to that balcony,” he says. Arothe, in 1983, was a budding teenage cricketer, full of dreams. He would go on to play 141 first-class matches but could never move beyond the fringes of international cricket. The Lord’s balcony remained elusive. At 50, thanks to a bunch of power-puff girls, Arothe gets a chance to live his dreams. To be in the balcony, and maybe, see Mithali lift the Cup like Kapil Dev.